New Scots: integrating refugees in Scotland's communities 2014-2017 final report

Report on collaborative work which has taken place under the New Scots refugee integration strategy from 2014 to 2017.

New Scots Background and Context

Who is a refugee?

The UK is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) and the supporting 1967 Protocol.

Article 1(A) of the 1951 Convention defines a refugee as a person who:

Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

According to international law, everyone who satisfies this definition is a refugee. The Refugee Convention does not prescribe a specific mechanism through which states should determine refugee status. The recognition of refugee status is declaratory, not constitutive. That is to say a person does not become a refugee because they are recognised; rather, they are recognised because they are a refugee.

Article 14 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights states that everybody is entitled to seek and enjoy asylum. In the UK, asylum is reserved to the UK Government under Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998. [2] The Home Office consider applications for recognition as a refugee and determine whether the Refugee Convention definition is satisfied. A person who has not yet received a decision on their request for refugee status is referred to as an asylum seeker.

States have recognised that a number of people who do not fall within the scope of the Convention may nevertheless be in need of protection. This kind of protection is known as 'complementary protection'. People seeking protection in the UK may also be granted protection under Article 3 and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and afforded immigration leave.

The Strategy

In 2013, New Scots: Integrating Refugees in Scotland's Communities [3] was developed through partnership as a three year strategy, by the Scottish Government, COSLA, and the Scottish Refugee Council; working with many organisations across all sectors supporting refugees.


For a Scotland where refugees are able to build a new life from the day they arrive and to realise their full potential with the support of mainstream services; and where they become active members of our communities with strong social relationships.

The scope of the New Scots strategy covers people seeking asylum, those recognised as refugees and those with another protection status. The strategy uses the term refugee to refer to anyone supported by the strategy; a distinction is only made where there is a technical or legal imperative in relation to the rights of each group or where failing to do so could obscure the meaning of the text. Although asylum is a reserved matter, the services which are essential to support refugees to integrate into our communities, including health care, housing and education, are devolved.

Purpose and Development

The purpose of the New Scots strategy was to coordinate the efforts of all organisations involved in supporting refugees and people seeking asylum in Scotland in order to make Scotland a welcoming place to people seeking protection from persecution and human rights abuses. The strategy aimed to make the most of the resources available by promoting partnership approaches, joined-up working and early intervention where possible. The action plans within the strategy were developed in partnership with all of the key agencies. They were grounded in refugees' experiences of life in Scotland and in consultation with refugee community groups in order to ensure that refugees' needs and aspirations were central to the plans. The delivery of the strategy and monitoring of progress have also been undertaken in partnership.

"We see integration as being a two-way process that involves positive change in both the individuals and the host communities and which leads to cohesive, multi-cultural communities."
New Scots definition of integration

Scotland Welcomes Refugees Conference, November 2016
Scotland Welcomes Refugees Conference, November 2016
Photo by Iman Tajik

Development was based around research which reviewed refugee integration in Scotland, identifying barriers to successful integration and opportunities to achieve better outcomes for asylum seekers and refugees. [4] Ager and Strang's 'Indicators of Integration' were used to consider Scotland's progress towards integrating refugees and also as a means of identifying gaps in provision. [5]

Engagement and Implementation

New Scots was developed and implemented through collaborative partnership and involved a broad group of stakeholders, including refugees who were able to provide their valuable insight and experience. New Scots set out a clear framework for work to support refugees and asylum seekers. It has been available for anyone to use as a reference or to adapt for their work within a Scottish context.

The structure of New Scots thematic groups enabled key organisations and groups who had been involved in the development of the strategy to continue to work together to implement it. New Scots also aimed to continue wider engagement throughout implementation. Many of the organisations which have been directly involved in the work of New Scots thematic groups are either directly involved in supporting refugees or have links to refugee groups. These links help New Scots partners to remain aware of issues affecting refugees.

Thematic groups included representatives of relevant agencies, organisations and refugee groups. The work of these groups to implement the strategy is the focus of the six theme related chapters of this report. Thematic group chairs also attended a core group, chaired by Dr Alison Strang, which coordinated strategy implementation.

Two conferences were held, one in January 2015 and a second in November 2016. Each conference attracted over 150 delegates from across a wide range of stakeholders, including individual refugees. Each conference was not only an opportunity to inform people about the work of New Scots but to engage them in helping to shape the strategy during implementation.

Refugee representative organisations, particularly the Refugee Women's Strategy Group ( RWSG) as well as individual refugees have engaged with New Scots implementation, ensuring that the strategy continues to focus on priorities for refugees. New Scots partners are grateful to everyone who has taken the time to share their experience and expertise.


When New Scots was developed in 2013 figures showed around 2,400 asylum seekers in Scotland. [6] During 2015 and 2016 there was an increase in applications for asylum in the UK, [7] predominantly due to events in the Middle East and North Africa. According to Home Office statistics, in December 2016 there were 3,350 asylum seekers in Scotland. [8]

It is difficult to ascertain precisely how many people who have been granted some form of refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK have chosen to make their home in Scotland. A person with refugee status can decide where in the country they live and just like anyone else will be influenced by a number of factors, including their individual housing options, employment prospects and links to family, friends and community.

The vast majority of asylum seekers in Scotland have been living in Glasgow throughout the New Scots timeframe, as this has been the only asylum dispersal area in Scotland. Consequently Glasgow has been a substantial focus for the work of New Scots. In 2015 Scotland committed to respond to the increasing humanitarian crisis and receive a fair and proportionate share of Syrian refugees. Nearly all Scottish local authorities have now received refugees under the Syrian Resettlement Programme. A number have also provided homes for unaccompanied child refugees. The response to the refugee crisis has made New Scots truly national in scope as refugees now live in communities across Scotland. Good practice established in Glasgow is helping to inform work to support refugees across Scotland.

Increasing Humanitarian Crisis

New Scots was developed prior to the impact of the increasing humanitarian crisis due to the war in Syria. By the end of 2015, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, general violence or human rights violations. This was an increase of 5.8 million in a single year. UNHCR estimated that 12.4 million people were newly displaced in 2015. More than half of all refugees were from just three countries: Syria (4.9 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million) and Somalia (1.1 million). [9]

During the second half of 2015, the number of refugees arriving in Europe by sea dramatically increased. Over 1 million people arrived in Europe by sea in 2015, over four times the 216,000 who arrived by sea in 2014. In addition, thousands of people died or were reported missing during dangerous sea crossings. [10]

On 4 September 2015, the First Minister held a Refugee Summit to consider how Scotland could play a full role in response to the humanitarian crisis. The Summit brought together Scottish politicians from both national and local government; opposition leaders; representatives of aid agencies, humanitarian organisations and faith groups; as well as refugees. A Refugee Taskforce was established to coordinate Scotland's practical response to the crisis.

On 7 September 2015 the Prime Minister announced that the UK would resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees living in countries bordering Syria by 2020 through its Syrian Resettlement Programme. Scotland was quick to respond as people across the country sought ways to demonstrate their support for refugees. Events were held to show solidarity with refugees and local groups were established to coordinate donations for refugees abroad or support the welcome of refugees into communities. On 12 September 2015, thousands of people attended candlelight vigils across Scotland to send a message of support for Syrian refugees and all refugees who have died, fled their homes and lost their families as a result of war. Events were held in Glasgow's George Square, Edinburgh, Dundee, Shetland, Orkney and many other towns and cities.

Scottish local authorities also showed remarkable leadership to respond to the humanitarian crisis. Within weeks of the UK Government's announcement of the expansion of the Syrian Resettlement Programme, all 32 of Scotland's local authorities had committed to supporting the efforts to offer a place of safety in Scotland. On 17 November 2015, the first charter flight bringing Syrian refugees to the UK under the Resettlement Programme landed in Glasgow. Within a year Scotland had welcomed over 1,200 Syrian refugees to communities across 29 local authorities, many of which had no previous experience of resettling refugees.

Scotland's response to the humanitarian crisis has made refugee integration truly national in scale as for the first time refugees are living all over Scotland. Refugees continue to arrive. Local welcome groups, volunteers and third sector organisations continue to support refugees across Scotland in a variety of ways including befriending, creating opportunities for English conversation practice and inviting refugees to community events.

Syria Vigil in George Square, Glasgow, September 2015
Syria Vigil in George Square, Glasgow, September 2015
Photo by Angela Catlin

New Scots provided a strong base for Scotland's response to the humanitarian crisis. The Refugee Taskforce was able to build on the networks and relationships established for the strategy; as well as bringing in new organisations who could help with broader refugee integration in the future. The New Scots thematic groups were already engaged in work to support refugee integration and were aware of barriers and potential issues. As the Syrian Resettlement Programme is now well established, the Taskforce is no longer meeting. However, in the event of a change which required national action, the Scottish Government would invite Taskforce members to reconvene.

The Taskforce established two subgroups: the Accommodating Refugees group and the Integration Forum. The Accommodating Refugees subgroup completed its work to address capacity of Scotland's housing services in February 2016 and its members are now represented within the New Scots Housing group. The Integration Forum focused on the longer term support needed to enable refugees to settle into communities. The Integration Forum continues to meet to enable the sharing of knowledge and expertise across a wide spectrum of organisations working to support refugees in Scotland.

The resources required to respond to the humanitarian crisis put pressure on New Scots partners during 2015 which has impacted on some intended outcomes of New Scots. The humanitarian crisis has not ended and Scotland continues to respond, but as practical arrangements have become established across Scotland partners have sought to bring the learning from the response back into New Scots for the benefit of all refugees.

Case Study

Aberdeenshire Syrian Refugee Response

In Scotland, few local authorities outwith Glasgow had experience of refugees or resettlement prior to October 2015. To support local authorities' response, COSLA worked with all 32 councils to help coordinate their efforts with the UK Government, Scottish Government and other key partners across the public and third sector.

Following the announcement of the Syrian Resettlement Programme, Councillors in Aberdeenshire voted to resettle 50 Syrian refugee families. As part of the response it was decided to second a Community Learning and Development ( CLD) manager to coordinate the resettlement programme. This decision to embed community development from the start was driven by recognition of the importance of finding a balance between prioritising and addressing refugees' needs, often in crisis situations, and maintaining a longer term vision of wider resettlement and integration goals. The ethics of resettlement and community development align in the importance of tackling exclusion and developing strong communities.

"Refugee resettlement is brutal. It's not an end product but a small step in a long and arduous journey of survival for families. …
Our purpose must be to ensure that we nurture the vulnerable to become empowered and work to ensure that our New Scots' families are equipped with the support, knowledge and opportunities they need to thrive and build individual and community capacities in Scotland."
Katie MacLean, Syrian Resettlement Coordinator, Aberdeenshire Council

Local frameworks for resettlement were established, including the formation of a Public Sector Strategic Group and Aberdeenshire Partner Refugee Group ( PRG). Partners agreed that building individual and group capacities with the Syrians would be an essential element of the resettlement programme, complementing the more traditional building blocks based on housing, health and benefits support. Partners with a resettlement offer were invited to contribute outcomes and actions to a local ' Syrian New Scots' Integration Plan [11] .'

"I could not believe the resettlement team's beautiful smiles. The care and support received from all was far beyond my expectations… We feel as though Aberdeenshire is home."
Bassel Aldaya, New Scot from Damascus, Syria

"In my opinion, the Aberdeenshire Syrian New Scots' Partnership has been one of the best examples of partnership in action I have ever experienced."
Ritchie Johnson, Director of Business Services, Aberdeenshire Council

Aberdeenshire looked to New Scot's clear aspirations and framework for supporting refugees to inform the local integration plan. The Aberdeenshire Integration Plan would become the basis of partner actions, evaluation and improvement planning over the next year. In the first 12 months, Aberdeenshire welcomed 18 families, consisting of 70 people in total.

Before October 2015
Asylum seekers arrive to Glasgow
Most refugees live in Glasgow

After October 2015
Asylum seekers arrive to communities across Scotland

A holistic approach

The New Scots strategy is for all refugees and asylum seekers, no matter how they arrived in Scotland. The New Scots approach has always been to enable all refugees and asylum seekers to integrate into the communities from day one of arrival and not just when refugee status is granted.

The humanitarian crisis has highlighted how the difference in response risks the creation of a two-tier system as Syrian refugees arriving under the Resettlement Programme arrived with entitlement to a coordinated support package not afforded to fellow refugees who have been granted refugee status through the asylum system. The holistic approach in Scotland of integration from day one aims to limit the effects of a two-tier system as far as it is possible to do so.

New Scots has encouraged innovative approaches to be piloted and projects to consider new ways of engaging refugees and service providers in work which aims to make improvements. Such work has indicated real benefits for those participating directly and it is hoped will also contribute to long-term integration and the development of more resilient communities.

Being Human Exhibition - Refugee Festival Scotland
Being Human Exhibition - Refugee Festival Scotland
Photo by Zander Campbell

Case Study

Refugee Peer Education for Health and Wellbeing

Service providers across Glasgow recognise the challenge of promoting health and wellbeing amongst the asylum seeking and refugee population.

The Refugee Peer Education pilot project was developed in collaboration between NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde ( NHSGGC), North East Sector Health Improvement team, and the Integration Service at Scottish Refugee Council. The programme set out to esablish and test an innovative model of health promotion through peer education. Promoting actions for good health by refugees and asylum seekers for refugees and asylum seekers, with community empowerment as a core value of the project.

"I enjoyed being able to deliver peer education sessions, seeing the progress of the project and feeling like being an important part of this progress. Learning how to organise and deliver peer education sessions in a fun and interactive way. Being able to do things like hill walking, climbing and other activities with the peer groups makes me happy. My English, self-confidence and network circle got bigger and bigger throughout this project."
Layla, Iranian refugee

"I wish this project never had to finish, as I believe more people could have benefited from this."
Layla, Iranian refugee

Layla, an Iranian refugee who arrived in Scotland in 2014 volunteered as a peer educator with Farsi speaking asylum seekers and refugees for 10 months, while her asylum claim was being processed. She promoted the project, recruited and trained peer groups, facilitated the groups and worked as part of the groups to create and implement their collective action plan, to improve their health and wellbeing.

Layla was recognised as a refugee, by UK Visa and Immigration a year after claiming asylum, while she was volunteering on the project. As part of building her life in Scotland she is now pursuing a course in Social Care and working to support herself while studying full time.

Name has been changed.

New legislation and strategies

In addition to the specific actions associated with New Scots, there are a number of other strategies, action plans and pieces of legislation which will support the integration of refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland. During the timeframe of the New Scots strategy these have included:

Race Equality Framework for Scotland 2016-2030 [12] - sets out the Scottish Government's approach to promoting race equality and tackling racism. The Framework is based on priorities, needs and experiences of Scotland's minority ethnic communities, with expertise contributed by the public and voluntary sectors and academia.

Scottish National Action Plan for Human Rights ( SNAP) [13] - a roadmap for the progressive realisation of international human rights standards in Scotland. Operational from December 2013 to 2017.

Welcoming our learners: Scotland's English for Speaker of Other Languages ( ESOL) Strategy 2015-2020 [14] - a refresh of the 2007 adult ESOL strategy for Scotland, setting a strategic direction for ESOL. The priority for high-quality ESOL provision remains and its significance is reflected in the New Scots strategy.

Equally Safe: Scotland's strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls [15] - launched in March 2016. The strategy includes early commitments to deliver specific, practical improvements to services, as well as, a phased approach to work towards long-term societal changes.

Scottish Housing Joint Delivery Plan [16] - identifies priority actions that representatives from across the housing sector have agreed need a specific focus to ensure the strategic objectives set out in Homes Fit for the 21st Century [17] and subsequent Scottish Government strategies are able to be delivered in relation to housing.

Housing Options Guidance [18] - sets out how local authorities should look to help people with a housing issue, including but not restricted to homelessness.

Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 [19] - introduced a single offence for all kinds of trafficking for the first time, consolidating and strengthening existing law. The Act gives courts new powers and measures to prevent and punish trafficking. The Act also provided clear rights to adult victims as well as guardianship of children who have been or are at risk of being trafficked, where no one in the UK holds parental rights and responsibilities.

Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 [20] - helps to empower community bodies through the ownership or control of land and buildings, and by strengthening their voices in decisions about public services. The Act placed Community Planning Partnerships on a statutory footing and imposed duties on them, including to involve community bodies at all stages of community planning, and a specific focus on tackling inequalities. The Act also provides avenues for community groups to request participation and promotes community capacity building.

Hate Crime Review - In January 2017, the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs announced an independent review of hate crime legislation, which will consider whether current laws are appropriate and consistent; if hate crime legislation needs simplified, rationalised or harmonised; and if new categories of hate crime need to be created for characteristics not currently legislated for, such as age and gender. The Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime, Prejudice and Community Cohesion recommended consideration of refugees and asylum seekers as one of these categories in their 2016 report. [21]


Email: Scotland's Refugee Strategy

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